Thursday, March 30, 2017

Great Crested Flycatcher back from the tropics...

This morning I stepped onto my doorstep to be greeted by the reeeep! of a Great Crested Flycatcher, my first of the spring. The species nests on my block, as it does widely in residential areas in and around New Orleans where there are large shade trees.  They are quite noisy from the time they arrive back until mid summer, after which they quiet down (as is typical of most nesting species in late summer).  After that, they can be surprisingly good at escaping detection- I might hear or see the local nesting pair only a handful of times from then until they leave in September.

The Great Crested is one of only a handful of neotropical migrants- the technical name for birds in our hemisphere that travel all the way to the tropics to winter- that spend their nesting season in residential New Orleans.  The others are Chimney Swift, Purple Martin, Mississippi Kite, and Bronzed Cowbird. Martins and cowbirds have been back for some time, and I heard my first report of a swift today, in City Park.  Mississippi Kites are likely to take a couple more weeks to make it up to our latitude. 

Several other neotropical migrants nest within our urban landscape but typically avoid residential yards- such as the Cliff and Barn Swallows under some of our bridges, the Eastern Kingbirds in some of our open spaces, and the Least and Gull-billed Terns on a handful of our large gravel rooftops.   Outside the city, in shady hardwoods especially, there are many more- a host of flycatchers, vireos, warblers, thrushes, buntings, and others, which turn places like the Honey Island Swamp or Jean Lafitte Park into a smorgasbord of song during the nesting season.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Tornado skirts (?) Night-Heron colony off Chef Hwy

Yesterday, I took a small group of my students to examine the impacts of the Feb 7 tornado on bird populations in the residential neighborhoods through which it tracked.  The EF3 tornado is estimated to have had winds of c. 140 mph and ran more or less parallel to Chef Menteur Highway in New Orleans East, cutting nearly perpendicularly across an array of residential side streets that run north from Chef.

Shortly after we began walking up one of these side streets from Chef (Knight),  we encountered Yellow-crowned Night-Herons in the live oaks that arch above the street, singles and pairs huddled around nests that are scattered through the trees.  One pair was copulating.  As we progressed, we counted 32 birds before we ran into the tornado damage a little over a block off Chef.  When we came back to Chef on the next street east, we saw another ten.  

Though incomplete, this count makes this a larger colony than any other I know of for this species in Greater New Orleans.  At first I thought that the tornado narrowly missed the birds, less than a block away.  However, one homeowner we spoke with smack in the middle of the tornado path said she had formerly had birds "pooping crawfish" on her property, so it sounds like the nest trees did previously extend up the block into the impact area.  Presumably there were no herons there when it came through- the species did not return on migration until March.  Hopefully the birds that would have nested in the trees taken by the tornado will just move to adjacent areas.

For some idea of the damage caused by the storm, here is a pic (with a European Starling on the wire).


Friday, March 3, 2017

Visiting birder Alan Crockard took these cool photos of a Red-cockaded Woodpecker flying across a marsh in Big Branch Marsh National Wildlife Refuge in Lacombe on Lundi Gras.  Not a view one usually gets of the species- traversing open air space.  Way to be fast on the draw, Alan!

The Red-cockaded is an endangered woodpecker found only in particular types of pine stands.  The only two reliable places to find them in southeast Louisiana are on this refuge, where pine flatwoods are managed by controlled burn and nest/roost boxes are inserted into trees- both strategies to improve habitat for the species.


Wednesday, March 1, 2017

First Yellow-crowned Night-Heron back

Just now I was cutting drywall in my front yard in the dark (don't ask!), and heard my first Yellow-crowned Night-Heron of the spring.  It gave its typical skeow several times.  The species nests throughout the metro area in residential neighborhoods with lots of large trees, especially oaks.  In my 'hood, a pair typically nests in my neighbor's yard next door or across the street, and several (in some years 20+) nest a few blocks away on Dodge Ave just off Jefferson Highway.

I have also heard a report of Barn Swallows back in the state- also newly returned migrants.

It's March- things are starting to roll!